AFC – KUALA LUMPUR, With the AFC Asian Cup 2019 on the horizon, we look back at some classic matches from previous editions of Asia’s most prestigious national team tournament, starting with arguably one of the most dramatic in recent memory.
It’s no overstatement to stay that one of the standout games of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup was not the final, nor semi-final, but an action-packed quarter-final away from the big city lights of Sydney and Melbourne, but in the country’s eighth largest city, the capital Canberra.
Never considered a football-hotbed – Canberra even now still lacks an A-League side – the Australian seat of government, for one night in January 2015, was turned into the centre of Asian football as Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq played out an instant classic in the tournament’s last eight.
The opening spells of the match were frenetic and furious but amounted to little before a typical driving run down the right from Ashkan Dejagah on 24 minutes was brought to a halt through a firm tackle from Dhurgham Ismail.
Vouria Ghafouri, though, was on hand to pick up the pieces and whip in a venomous cross that Azmoun met with a thumping header into the bottom corner of the goal.
Alireza Haghighi then saved well from Younus Mahmood with his feet but as the first period drew to a close there was time for a final moment of drama.
After a coming together with Iraq goalkeeper Jalal Hassan, Mehrdad Pooladi received his second yellow card of the match to see Iran go into the break a man down.
And within three minutes of the second half Iran almost saw their goal advantage disappear, too, as Yasir Kasim’s free-kick was athletically saved by Haghighi who launched himself to his left to tip the ball over the bar.
But on 56 minutes Iraq got the equaliser they had been threatening as Alaa Abdul Zahra’s wicked cross from the left wing evaded defenders and attackers alike before Ahmed Yasin latched onto the ball at the far post and drove his low angled shot through a group of players and into the net.
Iraq continued to prod and probe at the 10-man side but were unable to take further advantage of their numerical superiority before the whistle was blown for the end of the 90 minutes and a period of extra-time.
And the deadlock was blown open in just the second minute of extra time as a cross from Ismail saw the ball clip off Haghighi’s outstretched leg and pounced upon by Mahmood whose stooping header found the back of the net for his eighth goal in AFC Asian Cup competitions to put Iraq 2-1 up.
A sensational spectacle was still not finished there, though, and with three minutes of the first-half of extra-time remaining Morteza Pouraliganji thundered home Andranik Teymourian’s corner with a bullet header to level the scores again.
The defender went from hero to villain with five minutes remaining of the extra-time as his crunching tackle on Kasim saw a penalty awarded to Iraq. Ismail (above) showed impressive composure to drive his spot-kick down the middle of the goal with Haghighi already committed to his right.
But with two minutes remaining there was a further twist to the tail as once again from a Teymourian corner, Iran caused consternation in the Iraq defence as Javad Nekounam cannoned his header off the post and Reza Ghoochannejhad was on hand to head home to take the game to penalties.
Ehsan Hajsafi blasted his opening spot-kick over the crossbar for Iran, but Saad Abdulameer was unable to take advantage and struck his own effort wide.
And after Vahid Amiri hit the post in sudden death, Salam Shakir kept his composure to beat Haghighi and claim victory for Iraq and a place in the semi-finals for the third time in their AFC Asian Cup history.
What The Coaches Said
Radhi Shenaishil, Iraq
“Younus essentially played four halves today and he played amazing.
“We have a young squad and we need a leader. He’s the type of player that opponents hate to play against and teammates love to play with.
“There was some doubt in the media about whether he should play or not, but I don’t listen to them. As a coach I see what the player produces during training time and on the field.
“I wish him all the best; he’s a star and important for Iraq.”
Carlos Queiroz, IR Iran
“The Iranian players did everything possible to turn the game our way. I am very proud of the way they played the game and the way they fought.
“We go home now and it hurts a lot because the players worked hard and committed themselves, they deserve something more and they deserve respect from the fans.
“They have all my love and all my support because of the way they fought for the whole 120 minutes and penalties, and I feel very, very proud to be coach of this team and these players.”